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‘She was left to die’: Brother’s grief over anorexia death

“I accept that my sister is no longer on this earth,” Mr Smrdelj told The Age.  “Anorexia may be the cause of death, I can’t deny that. I accept and agree with the coroner’s findings. An illness. But what I don’t accept is the way she was left to die.”

Sonya's Szala's brother John Smrdelj wants the OPP to pursue a case against her husband John Szala.

Sonya’s Szala’s brother John Smrdelj wants the OPP to pursue a case against her husband John Szala.Credit:Justin McManus

While Mr Szala called an ambulance when he found his “incredibly vulnerable” wife unresponsive, the coroner found his failure to act sooner was a serious breach of care.

“Consequently, on those bases I conclude Mr Szala contributed to the death of his wife,” Mr Byrne said, stopping short of ruling Ms Szala would have survived had her husband sought help sooner.

Police told the coroner that they had considered whether to charge Mr Szala with manslaughter by criminal negligence, but had twice been advised by the Office of Public Prosecutions that there was insufficient evidence for any charges.

John Szala outside the Coroners Court.

John Szala outside the Coroners Court.Credit:Justin McManus

Mr Smrdelj said he was able to process his sister’s death at the beginning, but his grief had only deepened in the three years since.

“Bottling it up inside me and moving forward in silence is hard,” he said. “People only see the outside of you. You smile and greet people normally, daily. But little do they know that that person is busted up inside.”

Sonya Szala, with her husband John, died from anorexia.

Sonya Szala, with her husband John, died from anorexia.

The inquest heard Mr Szala bought two bottles of laxatives for his wife each week in the month leading up to her death.  Laxative abuse at such levels, the court heard, had the potential to cause “derangement” of the body’s chemistry and her requests should have been refused.

It also heard Mr Szala told police that on the day of Ms Szala’s death they had argued about whether he should call an ambulance but she didn’t want him to, so he returned to the washing.

Sonya Szala felt like a prisoner in her home, according to her brother.

Sonya Szala felt like a prisoner in her home, according to her brother.

Mr Smrdelj told the inquest he believed Mr Szala withheld certain foods and that his sister reported feeling like a prisoner in her home. However Mr Byrne found his evidence was “coloured” by his grief and hatred of his brother-in-law.

Mr Smrdelj also told the court he was concerned about his sister’s weight when he saw her six months before she died, but she told him: “Don’t worry, I am going to get help.”

Mr Szala’s lawyer said other evidence pointed to Ms Szala declining offers of help even though she suffered a gradual decline “over years”.

Dr David Eddey, who reviewed photographs of Ms Szala’s body, said it was likely the lack of electrolytes and calories in her body, combined with dehydration and the loss of muscle and fat, meant her body was “consuming itself” towards the end. Her condition was so extreme that her organs failed.

“A reasonable lay person of normal mental capacity would recognise that a person in the physical condition seen in the photographs of the deceased requires medical assessment and treatment,” Dr Eddey said in his statement to the court.

Police said in a statement: “The death of Sonya Szala was tragic. However police welcome the coroner’s findings and it would be inappropriate to make further comment.”

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